Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that he is “at the end of the rope” over a lack of cooperation from the Americans in investigating the massacre of 16 people including nine children by a US staff sergeant last Sunday. After meeting with families of the victims in the grand hall of his presidential palace, Karzai reportedly said that “US co-operation over the massacre” has been “poor.” Villagers told their version of what had happened; they have continued to insist that more than one shooter was involved and Karzai has said he will investigate their claims.
On Thursday, Karzai had called for the US to confine its troops to major bases in Afghanistan by next year, an “abrupt planning shift” that was in contradiction to a pledge that President Barack Obama had offered only a few hours earlier, to adhere to the 2014 withdrawal schedule of US forces. Karzai has demanded that US troops be pulled back from village areas and that Afghan forces must take the lead. To say that the massacre has put a severe strain on US-Afghan relations is an understatement.
Also on Thursday, the Taliban announced that it is calling off preliminary peace talks with the Americans. While noting that this announcement may be “coincidental,” the New York Times also says that it has “imperiled another crucial element of the American exit strategy in Afghanistan — brokering peace talks between insurgents and the government.”
While both Afghan and American officials are seeking to “put the best possible face on yet another rift between the two allies” — which has occurred at the very final stage of negotiations about a long-term strategic partnership — the events of the last week open the question if this divide is reparable.
Analysts Argue That the Afghan Mission Is “Incomplete”
Writing in Foreign Policy, Bruce Riedel and Michael O’Hanlon argue for why the US needs to stick with what is still a “mission incomplete.” Relations between Afghanistan and the US are at a crisis point — US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, arriving in Afghanistan to issue an apology to Karzai, was greeted by a fiery attack when an Afghan interpreter working for coalition forces crashed a stolen pickup truck near his plane — but “while the Afghanistan mission is going worse than we had all hoped,” it is still going “better than many understand.”
Riedel and O’Hanlon write that “enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan are down almost 25 percent over the last few months, relative to the comparable period last year,” though some parts of the country, including its east, are “20 percent more violent statistically in 2011 than in 2010, as insurgents belonging to the infamous Haqqani network and others wreaked havoc, and international forces remain underresourced there.” Riedel and O’Hanlon write that international forces are making “substantial progress” and the Afghan security forces have been improving.
American Soldier Transferred to US
The US staff sergeant accused of the shootings is now out of Afghanistan. After being briefly moved to an American base in Kuwait, he is being transferred to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. A senior American official said that he had been drinking alcohol, in violation of military rules in combat zones, and was “suffering from the stress related to his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife about the deployments on the night of the massacre.” The soldier, said the official, “just snapped.” He had been injured in Iraq on a previous deployment and had reportedly suffered a concussion and the loss of part of a foot in one episode. Part of the part of the Third Stryker Brigade, Second Infantry, he had served three tours of duty in Iraq and has two young children. Panetta has said that the soldier could face the death penalty.
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Photo taken in December of 2011 by Secretary of Defense